Stay In China, Google

In Google’s blog post A new approach to China there is an indication that Google is reviewing its options with regard to China. Stay in China.

We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

Censorship per se is odious and offensive. Refusing to co-operate with a lawful government request is also odious and offensive. Co-operating by censoring presents a dilemma. Two morally-relevant characteristics of the situation conflict; censorship is wrong and breaking the law is wrong.

Google.cn is a service to the people of China. Google has an obligation to cooperate with the government of Chine. Google needs to make clear to the people of China what such cooperation entails. Set the expectations of customers of  Google.cn.

This may be the stumbling block. It may not be practical to cooperate with the government of China. It may not practical to inform Google’s customers about what they can expect from Google. For example, if the mechanism used to implement censorship is to place government representatives in Google staff positions, where they review search requests and implement filters that could Google customers could not have anticipated; in other words, if it s not possible to be clear to Google customers what their expectations should be, then doing business is not possible. Doing business requires shared expectations.

Not clarified publicly is the “crackdown on dissidents” phrase. If this crackdown was censorship of their communication, then the position does not change. Be clear that communication with whomever is available through Google, in compliance with government requests. If this crackdown was the use of information collected by Google to identify dissidents and persecute them, then you have identified another morally-relevant characteristic, assisting in the harm that comes to others, and cannot ethically do business in China.

The evil Google could do is not cooperation with government-imposed censorship. The evil Google could is allowing people to believe that such censorship has not taken place.

What about attacks on Google accounts? Those are criminal activities, to be pursued as such. What about attacks on corporations and theft of information? Criminal activities. What if the government of China is coordinating these attacks? Closing Google.cn would not end such coordination.

The evil is not cooperation with the Chinese government, the evil is silence about cooperation with Chinese government. Be clear about the constraints you are operating under, and continue to operate.

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